Fall 2018 Semester Post-Mortem, Part 2: Film Studies

Get out

ENG 425: Film Studies

I’ve taught this course every semester for the last two years, so I’ve kept it basically the same except for changing out some of the films each time.  New films this semester were The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Hurt Locker, Being John Malkovich, and Get Out. I also brought back a unit on experimental films, which I haven’t taught for several years.

What Was New

  • For the unit on experimental films, I had students give presentations with a partner on a short experimental film.  The students had to introduce the film and start a discussion. Overall, this worked well to get students to expand their awareness of film and to get them thinking about how to analyze unconventional films. One drawback–there was a lot of bad powerpoint.  Too much text and too many students reading off of slides.  I need to give them some guidance and maybe a model here.
  • I replaced the unit on animation with a unit on film stardom.  This worked well, mainly because students responded so strongly to Being John Malkovich, which we watched that week. The film provoked great discussion, though I need to better integrate the topic into the syllabus, since it was a topic that never came up again after that week.
  • I also had students present their final papers to the class. As I did in my humanities course, I had the students create a slide in a shared Google Slides presentation.  I will definitely continue this activity.

What Worked

  • Writing assignments built on each other well.
  • Students got a good introduction to a wide variety of films. Many commented on how the course expanded their view of what films could do.
  • Students succesfully learned to approach films more analytically.

What Needs Adjustment

  • Decide whether and how I want students to use the textbook. The text is valuable for a lot of students as a supplement and as a reference, but several students have told me that it is not necessary to read because I cover everything they need to know in class. I should either change the book from “required” to “recommended” or change how I use it. Also, I’ve been considering adding some supplemental readings on topics not covered by the book, such as stardom and documentary.  It might also be a good idea to have students read more examples of film analysis in preparation for writing it.
  • Some students thought there was too much “partner work.” I used the Think/Pair/Share method quite a bit. I should explain why I do this, and also consider including more variety in discussion activities.
  • Too many depressing movies in a row at the start of the semester.
  • I want to change how I introduce concepts, so that students feel like they are discovering the concepts for themselves. Never introduce a concept with a term and a definition. Instead start by giving them problems to solve, so they need the concept to solve the problem. Or at least they are ready to take up the concept instead of just memorizing a new term.

Fall 2018 Semester Post-Mortem, Part 1: Honors Humanities

Our course theme

HONR 201: Inquiries in the Ancient World

I taught the course with very few changes from when I last taught it in Fall 2016. I again centered the course on the question of the meaning of life and taught mostly the same texts. I dropped Chuang-Tzu to make more room for a prep-day for the trial of Aeneas activity. I also moved Socrates to the beginning of the first semester, so I could start with the What is a Sandwich? activity as a gateway to the course. I had previously started with The Bhagavad Gita, which students complained was too difficult for a first reading.  I didn’t change any of the assignments, except to eliminate the midterm reflection.

Some New Things I Tried

  • Escape room/puzzle activity with Aristotle
  • Trial of Aeneas with character rolesheets and a prep day
  • Had students create a slide in shared Google Slides presentation to present synthesis essays
  • Had students write self-evaluations of both projects after turning them in and before I graded them.  This worked well in helping me respond to student work.  It felt more like a dialogue than just writing comments.

What Worked

  • The class theme works to help students make connections between the very diverse set of readings and to apply course questions to their own lives.
  • Varying discussion formats and in-class activities helped get all students engaged and increase participation. Students appreciate being able to try out ideas in small groups before moving to the big group for discussion. But the big group discussion is also important.
  • Student presentations may be the most important element in getting students to talk and listen to each other during discussions. Having students lead a class also helps to build community.
  • Taking class time to share student work continues to be important.  It gives students an audience for their projects, which makes it more relevant and interesting.
  • Students like kahoot!

What Didn’t Work

  • I am still having trouble integrating art into 201. I haven’t figured out a way to connect art to the theme of the course. The student presentation on Taoist art connected directly to the Tao Te Ching, but my lesson on Greek sculpture still feels tacked on. To make more time for art, I would need to drop one of the readings.

What Needs Adjustment

  • Students need more guidance with the Tao Te Ching.  As students suggested, I could begin with more of an emphasis on metaphors in the text.  Explain a couple key metaphors and then ask them to interpret some on their own. Students also asked for more cultural context with this text.  I think an activity that compared Daoism and Confucianism could help.
  • The trial needs adjustment to balance the game more toward the pro-Dido side and to get all players involved (especially moderates and members of the prosecution).  Consider giving the game phases.
  • I will continue having students evaluate their work with a rubric, but I will drop the requirement of having students give themselves a grade. This produced needless anxiety for no good purpose. If I want to move to actual self grading, I need to think more about how and why to do it—an to share these thoughts with the students.
  • Give students more background on the Trojan War before reading The Aeneid.  Also a list of which characters are important.  Suggest they read summaries before reading the text if they are having trouble following the plot.